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IFEX members ARTICLE 19 and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcome Bangladesh's new right to information law, but say there is still room for improvement.

The Right to Information Ordinance, published in Bangladesh's official gazette on 20 October, specifies that public bodies have 20 days to provide information requested by citizens. In requests involving the right to life and liberty, the authorities concerned would have to answer within 48 hours.

The ordinance provides for an independent and high-level Information Commission with broad powers to ensure the law is properly implemented and to resolve public complaints. Public bodies are required to nominate officials to handle access to information requests.

Fees for access to information have also been improved - with fixed fees, and fee waivers in the case of certain categories of applicants.

Although ARTICLE 19 welcomes the law, it notes that concerns raised in its March 2008 analysis of a draft version of the ordinance have still not been addressed.

The list of exceptions remains too broad and the scope of information too limited. Eight security and intelligence agencies are exempt, for example, and rules allowing provision of information in the public interest have actually been removed. The law also does not provide protection for whistleblowers.

Tahmina Rahman, director of ARTICLE 19-Bangladesh, said, "This is a very important development for Bangladesh. Although ARTICLE 19 has some concerns... we believe that these can be addressed and that the priority now is for effective strategies for the implementation of the new law."

ARTICLE 19, together with local partners Mass Line Media Centre, Shushashoner Jonno Pracharavijan and Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication, says it's essential that the process of establishing the commission and the rules for implementing the law should include the participation of local civil society groups, journalists, potential users of the law and advocates for free expression.

IFJ is urging the government to consider a possible fee waiver for journalists seeking to report "on issues of urgent public importance," and for a shorter time-frame to be considered, especially in media investigations into corruption and human rights abuses.

Visit these links:
- ProVoice, website of ARTICLE 19 and partners on right to information in Bangladesh:
- IFJ:
- IFEX Bangladesh page:
(5 November 2008)

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